Hot summer job market awaits America’s teens

WASHINGTON — Mary Jane Riva, CEO of Pizza Factory, has a message of caution for her customers this summer: be prepared to wait longer for your Hawaiian pie or calzone.

Pizza Factory’s 100 West Coast locations are desperately short of workers. With about 12 employees per store, they’re barely half-staffed — just when many more Americans are venturing into restaurant chains like his.

“Days of 15-minute orders,” Riva said, “may not be happening anymore.”

Talk to other employers in America’s vast hospitality industry — hotels, restaurants, public pools, ice cream parlors, pick-your-own strawberry farms — and you’ll hear a similar complaint. They cannot fill many of their summer jobs because the number of vacancies far exceeds the number of people willing and able to fill them, even with higher salaries.

Help may be coming: School is out for the summer, pushing millions of high school and college students away for the next three months. Riva, for her part, hopes to receive more job applications from students looking to spend some money during the summer.

Teenagers are in an exceptionally dominant position – at least those of them who want jobs. Researchers from the Center for Labor Markets and Policy at Drexel University predicted in a report last month that an average of 33% of young people aged 16 to 19 will be employed each month from June to August this year. , the highest rate since 34% in the summer of 2007.

Among them is Samuel Castillo, a 19-year-old four-year veteran of Miami’s Summer Jobs Connect program who has already built an impressive resume. In a former job with the program, he worked in a legislative office, recording voter complaints. His first summer, he saved $900 to buy parts to build his own computer.

Now he’s studying computer engineering technology in college and working the Jobs Connect program again this summer, earning $15 an hour teaching other students how to manage money.

“The purpose of the job is to pay my bills,” he said. “School costs money. Books cost money.

This year, for the first time in a few years, employers could get more help from abroad. After restricting immigration as a precaution against COVID-19, the government is starting to relax: the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services has raised the limit on temporary H-2B work permits – used for seasonal work – from 35,000 visas.

Cape Resorts, which operates several boutique hotels, cottages and restaurants in Cape May and elsewhere in New Jersey and New York, will employ about 120 international students this summer with J-1 visas, work permits that also serve as a student program. ‘cultural exchange. . The company employs around 950 people.

“Finding staff willing to fill hospitality positions remains a challenge,” said Cindy D’Aoust, company executive. “But it’s great to see the return of our international students as well as students returning for the summer season.”

Yet the employment level of today’s teenagers is nowhere near what it used to be. In August 1978, 50% of American teenagers were working. Around 2000, teen employment entered a decade-long slump. In June 2010, during the extremely slow recovery from the Great Recession of 2007-2009, teen employment bottomed out at 25% before slowly recovering as the economy recovered.

It was more than the economic slump that kept teenagers from working. Longer-term economic forces and changing personal choices have also contributed. The U.S. economy now offers fewer entry-level, low-skilled jobs — ready for teenagers — than it did in the 1970s and 1980s. Many of those jobs that remain, from supermarket clerks to hamburger turners in fast food restaurants, are increasingly likely to be filled by older workers, many of whom are immigrants.

And many teenagers from wealthy families, who are considering admission to top universities, have chosen to forego summer jobs for summer courses or volunteer work that must be mentioned in college applications. university. Others now spend their summers playing sports.

But COVID and its economic damage changed everything. At first, the economy collapsed as businesses closed and consumers hunkered down at home. Soon, sweeping federal aid and ultra-low interest rates sparked a rapid and unexpected recovery. Companies rushed to recall employees they had laid off and find new ones to cope with the upsurge in customer orders.

The US unemployment rate fell to 3.6%, just above a half-century low. This week the government announced that employers posted 11.4 job vacancies in April, up from a record 11.9 million in March, but still extraordinarily high. On average, there are now about two jobs available for every unemployed American.

As a result, teenagers are much more in demand. And the pay they’re being offered — $15 or $16 an hour for entry-level work — is bringing some back into the job market. Teenage employment has already surpassed pre-pandemic levels, even if the overall labor market still hasn’t.

With desperate employers raising hourly wages, many teens may take better-paying jobs than the usual seasonal openings at summer camps, RV parks and resorts, said Julia Pollak, an economist at ZipRecruiter.

“We have this big gap in the market now,” she said. “There are no takers for the jobs that are usually given to teenagers for spending money.”

It’s become a serious headache for Melissa Mroczek, owner of Nomad Wax Co., which makes soy candles and scented products in Omaha, Nebraska. Mroczek struggles to fill a paid marketing intern position. A few candidates showed interest. Two made it to the hiring stage — then disappeared, even though Mroczek offers above minimum wage, plus school credits and flexible hours.

Never in his four years at the helm of Nomad Candle, and 15 years prior as a hiring manager for a national financial services company, has Mroczek had such difficulty hiring.

“We still haven’t completed it, and at this point we may not be able to,” she said. “So we can look to find a high school student or try to move that to the fall semester instead and work directly with a professor to provide course credit.”

For teenagers who want to work and have the choice of their job, economists and other analysts welcome the reversal of fortune. Summer jobs give young people experience and make them more likely to work later in life, Drexel researchers say — good news for an American workforce losing the vast baby generation. retirement boom. Entry-level jobs also give teens the opportunity to learn how to manage money and mingle with colleagues and clients from diverse economic and cultural backgrounds.

Lauren Gonzalez, who operates two hostels with her sister — The Local in New York and Lolo Pass in Portland, Oregon — is looking for a barista, bartender, events manager and sales manager. She recently raised the salaries of cleaners and receptionists, jobs she previously had little trouble filling.

“I definitely put my hands up in the air sometimes and say, ‘Where’s everybody?’ ”

Christopher Rugaber in Washington and Patrick Whittle in Portland, Maine contributed to this report.


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Sandy A. Greer